How to Become a Meal Planning Maestro
To begin your plant-based journey, I wanted to start by teaching you some of my favourite meal planning techniques. The easiest way to next-level your health and incorporate more plant-based meals in your diet, is to spend a bit of time prepping before the week begins. I've broken down the process I personally follow into 5 easy steps below, and have also created a downloadable version of my Meal Planner and Pantry Staples shopping list for you to use. Print both of these off now, so you're ready to fill them out as we dive into our recipes ahead.
Before you start, print off the plant-based Pantry Staples shopping list up top, so you can stock up your non-perishable items. I recommend buying these from a bulk foods store (where you can refill your own jars = less packaging waste). Once you've done this, you'll then only need to top these up every 3-4 months.
I personally spend half an hour or so on a Saturday (often more... I'm addicted to cook books), planning my main meals for the week ahead. I'll flick through cookbooks, look at what we've got in the fridge and pantry that needs using up, and go from there. e.g. a cauliflower looking sad in the vege drawer - I'll make the Spiced Cauliflower Fritters. Some wilting silverbeet in the fridge, I'll make the Butternut Blonde Lasagne. An extra bag of buckwheat flour in the pantry, I'll pop the Banana Berry Pancakes on my list. I'll write down the ingredients I'm wanting to use up (in a "To Use" list), then beside each one, the recipe I'm going to make to use it. From there, I'll check what else I need in terms of fresh produce, then that becomes my shopping list for the week.
Sunday shopping day
Then on Sunday morning, I'll head to our local farmers markets and pick up any specific recipe ingredients I need, as well as fridge staples for our breakfasts and lunches (fruit, coconut yoghurt, salad greens, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, carrots, red onion etc). If I'm feeling lazy, I'll send Tony on the trip. I spend way too long perusing all sorts of yummy looking things - he instead is in and out in half an hour. Then on Sunday arvo or evening, I'll make one of the recipes in batch quantities (double what we need), have that for dinner, and voila I've already got one set of leftovers ready for the week ahead.
Leftovers = Bestovers
I don't cook dinner every night of the week, and don't expect you to either! Life's busy, I have two crazy minis racing around my feet, and am sure you're busy too. Also, I want to spend my evenings doing other things besides just cooking (and you can be sure Tony doesn't want to clean up after my kitchen bomb site every night of the week). I therefore recommend planning a combination of recipe making nights, and leftover nights.
Leftovers have a bad wrap, but they are incredible. I always batch cook (make 2-3 times what we need), then we have a ready made meal waiting in the fridge, or I'll pop it into the freezer. After a few weeks of doing this, you'll start creating a veritable smorgasbord of goodies in your freezer, ready to defrost and heat up for an easy healthy fast food weeknight meal. Imagine it... Lentil Bolognese on a Monday, Kiwi Beet Burgers on a Wednesday. No more needing to call up your local for a last minute takeaway when you plan in this way, and it's no extra work for you either. Ideal. Leftovers have suddenly become your bestovers.
Your choice - leftovers for lunch, or dinner
Once you're into batch cooking, you then need to decide whether you'd like to have those leftover portions for your lunches, or for dinners. I personally choose the dinner option - so I can have our beloved evenings as free as possible. Instead I'll choose an easy lunch option (often a big salad throw-together, with some homemade Sesame Spelt Bread on the side topped with Fermented Cashew Cheese, avo, tomato and Homemade Sauerkraut. Drizzle your salad with some leftover dressing from one of your mains (you'll notice my sauces and dressings always make 1-2 cups, for this very purpose). Sprinkled with some activated seeds, and you've got yourself a stellar lunchtime meal, in not much more than 5 minutes.
This allows me to save those glorious bestovers for the intervening dinner nights, reducing my recipe making nights to just three. I'll therefore cook say Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, with Monday, Wednesday and Friday being off nights (bestover nights). Saturdays I often leave blank so we can go out for dinner, to a friends place, or in summer - have a simple picnic on the beach.
5 Steps to meal planning mastery
Here are the five simple steps I recommend you follow each week, the exact same steps I follow myself. Before you get started, remember to print off the plant-based Pantry Staples list, and buy these in advance from your local bulk foods store. You'll then only need to do that part again once every 3-4 months.
- Saturday prep - write a "to use" list of 4-5 items looking sad in the fridge/pantry, then peruse Be Good cooking school (or your favourite cook book), and write beside each one a meal you can make with it (your "to make" list). I recommend 3 mains, and 1-2 snack/sweet recipes.
- Fill your planner - print out the meal planner up top, and write your chosen mains into the Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday dinner slots. Write your snack and/or sweet treat at the top of the snacks + desserts column. You can then fill in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday dinner slots with leftovers of your choice, and "out" in the Saturday. Breakfasts fill in with your favourite simple breakfast (e.g. fruit salad with coconut yoghurt & muesli). For lunches, either fill these in with leftovers from dinner if you're choosing that option, something simple such as "salad with sesame spelt bread, avo, & tomato", or a back up recipe from your freezer stocks.
- Shopping list - write yourself a list with all the fresh ingredients you need for your recipes, along with fresh fruit and vege for your breakfasts and lunches, as well as any pantry staples you need a top up of.
- Sunday morn shop - head to your local markets, whole foods store, or supermarket to get what you need (or send the better half).
- Sunday arvo cook-off - batch cook your first main recipe (2-3 times what you need), and make your snack and/or sweet treat recipe at the same time. This is the longest you'll spend in the kitchen all week.
That's it. You're prepped for the week! Now all you'll need to do is spend 5 minutes each morn prepping your simple brekky / lunch, and cook again on Tuesday and Thursday eves. Rest back, relax, and watch as the health benefits flow in.
Up top I've included your plant-based Pantry Staples shopping list, a blank Meal Planner for you to fill out, as well as an example meal plan of my own. This includes the simple method I've detailed above (the style I personally follow myself). As you add more batch-cooked meals and snacks to your fridge/freezer/pantry, you’ll be able to increase the variety (if you want to). But honestly, simple is best. You'll feel good, look good, and be relaxed!
Any questions or comments just ask me below, I'd love to hear how this works for you. Also, remember that meal planning isn't an exercise in perfection. If you want to leave a few boxes blank, or write "winging it" in there, I'd be 100% in approval. I wing it regularly.